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Why Love/Hate is a timely shot of reality

I assumed the habits of a junkie over Christmas. My brother-in-law bought me the box-set of the RTE drama Love/Hate. I watched all three series.

Set in Dublin’s criminal underworld, the story is violent but compelling and brilliantly told. The characters are diverse as they are dark but there’s redemption and regret among the fatalism and like the best stories, there’s bad in good guys and good in the bad guys.

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That’s the hook and I had to keep topped up until I got to the end.

But the success of this series goes deeper. People are genuinely surprised RTE has managed to pull this one off; not just because it’s a brilliant story but because Love/Hate is vivid and honest portrayal of a side of Irish life that’s so frequently just a news bulletin away.

Only it has never really been confronted, not like this.

It takes guts to portray the truth especially when it is as ugly as it is here, far easier to default to the softer portrayal of Ireland, the type splashed on billboards by tourism agencies who play on old stereotypes and a way of life so far removed from that experienced by most people living in the country today…and well, it’s just not true.

Yes, Ireland has a soft side, but the wool has worn a bit. There’s default friendliness, the landscape is beautiful and a sense of community remains, but so too is it a place that has grown distant from its picture postcard side. That side is little more than a sales pitch now when set against reality of what is going on, economically, politically, socially.

Love/Hate isn’t a general reality but it is one that has been hugely significant in the shaping of Ireland today. Recreational drugs, casual violence, contempt for authority; this series gets to the base level of the worst of these excesses, but like it or not, they are excesses which beat a rhythm through modern Ireland and this portrayal delves deep and dark.

This is not the Ireland many of us know, but according to people who live in these communities and the Gardaí, it’s an accurate portrayal of a lifestyle that touches thousands and subtly touches hundreds of thousands more.

Ireland is a small place and the juxtaposition between those on the right and the wrong side of the law in Irish society is jarring because the buffer between both is about one degree of separation, as shown in series two when Nidge – the gang leader – attends a parent/teacher meeting at his son’s school.

We grew up on newspaper reports of gangland, have been spoon fed a stylised diet by the red tops, but those levels of criminality always felt  underground and comfortably far away. This series created off the back of those news reports suggests, and with great force, that there’s just a thin layer of soil between the societal divide and what is above the surface is no longer hidden from view.

It’s a fact of immigration that the longer you live away, the more likely you are to become detached from where you come from and sometimes you rely on art to keep you in touch.

Often, it feels like we’re being pushed the Bord Failte image of Ireland which plays up a twee, nostalgic image that no longer exists.

Then something like this comes along and stings because it’s real and rings true.

That makes it valuable because it gives an up-close view of modern Ireland as opposed to the fairy-tale so often pedalled.

Love/Hate is a timely shot of reality.


Robert Mulhern

Robert is a freelance news and sports journalist. He is also the author of A Very Different County and creator/producer of Sex, Flights and Videotapes for RTE's Doc on One. Follow him @MulhernRobert on Twitter

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